Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Durst: Millionaire Murderer

What Happened to Kathleen Durst?

Kathleen Durst was a fourth-year medical student at Albert Einstein School of Medicine when she disappeared in January 1982. Her marriage to Robert Durst had been deteriorating, and he'd been beating her, but according to her friends, she lived in denial. Many of them pleaded with her to leave Durst, to get out of the house before he did something drastic, but Kathleen always had an excuse for staying, either minimizing the severity of his abuse or saying that the prenuptial agreement he'd made her sign was "unfair" and she wouldn't leave him without getting what was rightfully hers.

Unlike Robert, she did not come from money. Kathleen was the product of a middle-class Irish Catholic family from New Jersey. She had been renting an apartment in a building that Durst owned on East 52nd Street. They'd met when she stopped by his office one day to drop off her rent check. She apparently found his quiet intensity attractive.

Kathleen Durst reward poster
Kathleen Durst reward poster

The problems with their marriage seemed inevitable. Durst's eccentric charms impressed her less and less as she matured from an adoring 19-year-old bride to a self-confident woman on the brink of becoming a physician. Having graduated from college with a degree in nursing, Kathleen had decided to pursue her dream of becoming a pediatrician. Consequently she no longer had time for partying long into the night and jetting around the world on a whim.

Robert and Kathleen maintained three homes in the New York City area — an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, another on the Upper East Side, and a house in the small Westchester County town of South Salem — and by moving from one address to another, they  managed to avoid each other a good deal of the time. Naturally she was preoccupied with her heavy course load, but Durst apparently felt that he was losing his control over her. At the time Durst drove a Volkswagen Beetle and seldom went anywhere without his husky, Igor. He was also undergoing primal scream therapy, which encourages patients to scream loudly and repeatedly to release their underlying fears and frustrations, but people who had heard Durst's primal scream claimed that it was closer to an animal's growl.

A friend of Kathleen's, Gilberte Najamy, threw a party one Sunday night in late January 1982 at her apartment in Manhattan. Kathleen went alone; Durst was at the South Salem house. Not long after she arrived, Durst called, looking for her. When Kathleen got off the phone, she told Najamy that she had to leave because her husband was very upset, but she also told her friend, "If something happens to me, check it out. I'm afraid of what Bobby will do." As Ned Zeman reports in his Vanity Fair article, Kathleen had been saying this to many of her friends for quite some time.

Four days after Najamy's party Durst walked into the 20th Precinct on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to report that his wife was missing. The detective who spoke to him was immediately suspicious. Why did Durst wait four days to report this? Durst explained that with her studies and their three residences, it wasn't unusual for them not to see each other for several days in a row. Durst admitted that they had argued when she returned from the party. She had consumed a bottle of wine while they fought, he said, after which he drove her to the Katonah, New York, train station. She'd taken the 9:15 p.m. train back to the city, he said. The detective felt that Durst was oddly calm for someone who couldn't locate his wife.

Witnesses claimed that they saw Kathleen at the Upper West Side apartment on Monday, the day after the party, and a woman who identified herself as Kathleen had called the dean's office at Albert Einstein School of Medicine that day to say that she was sick and wouldn't be in class.

The next week Durst told the New York Post that he was offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the whereabouts of his wife. Her friends found this bitterly amusing because they were convinced that Durst had done something terrible to her and was trying to cover it up. They retraced her steps on the night of the party and theorized that, given the train schedules, Kathleen would have had no more than 40 minutes to drink an entire bottle of wine if she had indeed made the 9:15 train back to Manhattan.

Westchester County D.A. Jeanine Pirro investigates Kathleen Durst's disappearance
Westchester County
D.A. Jeanine Pirro
investigates Kathleen
Durst's disappearance
(AP/WideWorld)

Police efforts to find Kathleen Durst were unsuccessful, and no substantial leads were uncovered. Her friends, however, kept her memory alive, assembling as much information as they could in the hope that they would someday find out what really happened to her. Many of those files were lost when the homes of two of Kathleen's friends, Najamy and Kathy Traystman, were broken into and ransacked. Among the items stolen were all their files relating to their friend's mysterious disappearance.

The search for Kathleen Durst became Gilberte Najamy's personal mission, and she made sure that Durst knew that she was keeping track of him. Najamy's intense desire to get to the truth consumed her life and drove her to alcoholism.

Robert Durst, on the other hand, went on with his life, dating new women, globetrotting, gambling, living the good life. Durst had apparently put his first wife behind him. On December 11, 2000, almost 19 years after Kathleen had disappeared, he remarried. His new wife was his long-time girlfriend, Debrah Charatan, a successful real-estate broker.

The case of Kathleen Durst remains unsolved.

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